The Cavalry's torrid start as a franchise has them in position to pull off its first major upset.
In the first leg of the third-round Canadian Championship the Cavalry played the MLS' Vancouver Whitecaps to a 0-0 draw, holding the heavily favoured visitors back from a crucial away goal and nearly pulling off a result with a late surge in front of over 5,000 supporters Wednesday night at Spruce Meadows' ATCO Field.
"It feels like a moral victory," said Cavs head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. "The fans were on another level tonight, that was brilliant. This performance, we said about it at the beginning let's make this for the fans. It's not lost on us, we're still growing this game in this city, in this country and we've got a brand like the Whitecaps that we get to measure ourselves against.
"I thought we finished brilliantly, and a lot of the fans now will take it as a moral victory because here's the thing, in a nil-nil game if we score one away from home, they have to score two."
The Cavs opened brightly through the first 10 minutes, earning the first dangerous free-kick, corner and scoring chance from the jump. Eye-catching right winger Nico Pasquotti troubled Caps goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau in the seventh minute with a low near post strike, forcing a kick-save from the Canadian international.
Vancouver grew into the game for the rest of the half, owning 54 per cent of the possession in the first 45, but not throwing much danger Marco Carducci's way as the Cavalry back-three of Dominick Zator, Jonathan Wheeldon and Mason Trafford kept Whitecaps attackers Yordy Reyna and Fredy Montero largely in-check.
An even second-half saw both teams threaten, particularly on the set-piece as the Cavalry began to establish more of a presence in the attacking third.
"All it was at halftime was we felt we could be a little more aggressive with our press," Wheeldon Jr. said. "And start playing down the sides a little bit more whether it's throw-ins, corners, crosses and the boys started going."
Zator's aerial ability led to a couple close chances on headers off corners while Canadian international centre-back Doneil Henry came close on a curling header delivered on a free-kick from left-back Ali Adnan.
The Cavalry's best chance came at the 90th minute when Honduran winger José Escalante struck a powerful shot from 25 yards, forcing a terrific effort from Crépeau to keep it scoreless. Caps midfielder Andy Rose almost stole the three points in stoppage time, but the midfielder's header on a free-kick sailed just over the Cavalry goal.
"I think what made the game dangerous was that we tried in our actions in the last-third to find solutions," said Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos. "There's a shot from Yordy outside the box, there is a very good counter-attack that PC took it very well with his right foot and where Cavalry made it very tough for us was every set-play situation, corner-kick, throw-in.
"It's a good first leg. I told the guys this is four parts of the two-leg affair. The first two were played here, it's done and the next ones are going to be in Vancouver."
The announced crowd of over 5,000 were particularly boisterous in the late stages as both teams scrambled for a late-winner.
"It's massive, you really felt it today, especially in those last 10-15 minutes," said Trafford, the Cavalry captain. "It felt like the fans behind the goal there were really trying to suck the ball into the back of the net, we were close to getting it done. It just gave us such a lift, it's such a point of pride for us as players to see how it's grown in such a short period of time."
The Whitecaps entered the first leg on less than stellar form, having lost 6-1 to LAFC on the weekend and with just one win in its last 10 matches as the Caps sit on the outside of the playoff picture in 12th place in the Western Conference.
Dos Santos fielded a strong starting eleven at Spruce Meadows and spoke post-match of the high regard he places on the Canadian Championship.
"I'm born in Montreal, I'm Canadian and I want to respect, I think this allows the game to grow in Canada," Dos Santos said. "As a coach if I throw out there players, let's say kids from our academy or things like that, it's not fair for the fans that were here today and it would not be fair for the opponent, for the coaches and we have to take this tournament seriously."
Wheeldon Jr. said it was terrific to test his squad against a strong Whitecaps side with a number of big names on the international scene in Montero, Reyna, Adnan in the lineup.
"We want to be the best we can be and in order to do that you have to play against some quality players and tonight we played against a quality team," Wheeldon Jr. said. "I've got a lot of respect for Marc Dos Santos, he's one of the best Canadian coaches we have in this country.
"It's a credit to the Canadian Championship on how it's viewed, he was trying to win, as were we and it made for a great game."
The second leg of the third-round Canadian Championship goes July 24 at Vancouver's BC Place.
Elsewhere in Canadian Championship action the USL's Ottawa Fury edged the CPL's HFX Wanderers 3-2 in Halifax and the MLS' Montreal Impact and York9 played to a 2-2 draw in Ontario. The defending winners of the Canadian Championship, Toronto FC, are idle with a bye through to the fourth run of the Voyageurs Cup.
"The tie is wide-open isn't it? And that's what we wanted," Wheeldon Jr. said. "We wanted to make sure that when we went (to Vancouver) we could have a go and there's no pressure on us, we're not expected to go through and with that you see the freedom the guys are playing, they're playing on the front-foot and it's good to see.
"That's how we play most of the games here in the CPL and it's good to see it compared against an MLS side."
It's back to league action for the Cavs with a trip to the Maritimes to battle the Wanderers for the second match of the fall season on July 13.
The Cavalry are next in action at Spruce Meadows on July 21 against York9 FC.
For more information go to cavalryfc.canpl.ca